Sunday 12 May 2024

R.E.M. by Stipe - Harlington Centre, Fleet - 11th May 2024

I would never claim to be a big R.E.M. fan, indeed at one time I disliked them, but over the years I came to appreciate and even enjoy them, tastes change, and when I saw Stipe, a well regarded tribute act to R.E.M., were coming to my closest venue, I quickly snapped up a ticket.

The Harlington Centre is in my hometown, so it was a 5 minute drive into town and a 5 minute walk from some free parking to the venue.

I arrived about 8:10, with an expected on stage time of 8:30, having watched the much delayed Spa 6 Hour race coverage first.

I grabbed a decent pint of beer at an affordable price (no exploitative O2 venue prices here!) and made my way to the, bizarrely picket fenced-in, standing area.

Most of the hall (I'm here most often to donate blood!) was set out as seats around tables, I guess reflecting the age of most of the audience, but a few of us are still mobile and energetic enough to stand for a couple of hours.

At 8:30, the band appeared, followed by a shaven headed man, looking not unlike Michael Stipe in latter years.

I must admit that most of the early tracks were not ones I was familiar with, but musically and vocally they did sound very like R.E.M.

The first song that I recognised was actually the 6th, "Reno" and the majority of the first set were tracks I was unfamiliar with. I do have a couple of compilation albums by R.E.M, but none of the early tracks I remembered (like "Radio Free Europe" and "Rockville") were there (with the exception of "So. Central Rain"), so I guess the set featured some lesser known tracks (looking at old setlists, they do seem to mix up the tracks they play a lot, which must be good for regular fans).

After about an hour (and 11 songs) the band took at 30 minute or so break.

When they returned, it was to a set of song I definitely did know, starting with "Orange Crush", "Cuyahogo" and "The One I Love".

These were easier to compare to the originals and, I'd say that, they do a very good job of sounding like R.E.M.

The set rounded out with more hits and ended on "Man On The Moon", by which time the audience were warmed up enough to loudly call for more.

Of course, they returned for 3 more hits, ending on the ironically bouncey "End Of The World".

If I want to find fault, I'd say the balance between guitars and vocals was wrong early on in the first set, with the former drowning out the latter, but it did seem to improve and I had no problem with the second set.

And, of course, there were personal favourites missing, notably "Night Swimming", but equally they didn't play "Shiney Happy People", which is the song that caused me to once dislike R.E.M, so it was swings and roundabouts. Judging from comments by the band, they switch the playlist around a fair bit, which would make another visit to a gig more rewarding.

The band play the songs well and the singer does a very passable job of sounding right, so I'd say, if you've even a casual interest in R.E.M., Stipe are worth searching out for an evening of live R.E.M songs which you'll probably never get a chance to hear from the originals, given that they recently denied any chance of a reunion.


Kindly provided by the band.

Sunday 28 April 2024

Jess Glynne - Pryzm, Kingston - 26th April 2024

Back in 2018, my daughter and I had been to see Jess Glynne at the BIC in Bournemouth and greatly enjoyed the show (and it was very much a show, with a large stage, string section and big screen backdrop), but Jess had been very quiet since then.

I'm not entirely sure why, but clearly, from some of her comments at Pryzm, there had been some turmoil, personal and professional, that had kept her from the limelight.

However, I was in Kingston on a Friday evening because she had finally released her third album, the eponoymous "Jess", and was playing a couple of 'album release' mini-gigs.

I first discovered this concept just a few years ago, when I was here to see Wet Leg, but they're great, as you get an album and a short gig, for a very reasonable price (£17 in this case, including the CD version).

I arrived about 7:15PM, with a predicted stage time of 8PM, but the place was already pretty full.

I decided to go down to the floor this time (I'd watched Wet Leg from near the bar, elevated above the floor and stage) and found myself mostly surrounded by young women (Being in my 60s, I did feel quite conspicuous, although there were some people closer to my age scattered around).

A fairly large group of people, 3 backing singers, 2 brass section and other band members appeared at 8PM prompt and then Jess Glynne joined them a moment or two later.

Back in 2018, she had a very 'yoof' style, jogging bottoms and crop tops, but it was a far more sophisticated looking Ms Glynne who took to the stage in a tailored red trouser suit. Frankly, she looked great.

My CD hadn't arrived before the gig, so I didn't actually know any of the songs I would hear on the night.

We had a very short track first, called Intro, which made me wonder if the setlist would be made up of abbreviated versions of songs, but it is short on the album, too.

This was followed by a couple of great tracks, I thought, "Silly Me" and "Friend of Mine", Jess' voice sounding soulful and good and ably backed up by the 3 excellent backing vocalists (Two women and a man).

Other tracks from the album followed, "Save Your Tears", "Enough", "Do You Know About Love?", "Lying" ("We all lie to ourselves sometimes", Jess said as way of introduction to this song), "Promise Me", the final track on the album, which she said was the first she wrote and where she originally imagined the album would open, but the sentiment of "Promising Love" was a great one to end the album on.

Unlike Jess, I suspect most people never listen to an album start to finish and so the flow of the songs is lost to them - For a young woman, she has a refreshingly old school take on albums and influences (recommending the audience to listen to Joni Mitchell for songs with a story) and finishing on "Easy".

The band were great, the backing singers excellent and Jess was in fine voice.

You're not going to get 'all the hits' at an album release gig, that's not the deal, but in contrast to 2018's extravaganza, this felt like an intimate, club gig (there were still quite a lot of people there!), which suited both Jess' style and the songs from the new album.

As I write this, I've been listening to the album which arrived in the post the morning after the gig and the songs sound good there, too.

Great to see and hear you back, Jess!

Intro (Jess)
Silly Me
Friend of Mine
Save Your Tears
Do You Know About Love?
Promise Me

Wednesday 6 March 2024

Echo and the Bunnymen - O2 Academy, Bournemouth - 5th March 2024

I'd wanted to see Echo and the Bunnymen for some time, so when I saw they were playing the small O2 Academy venue in Bournemouth, I booked a ticket.

As it turned out, I was spending the night a few miles away, so it was a pleasantly short trip to the venue and back, although the £4 parking fee took me aback a little (and paled next to the £7+ for a pint of overly cold IPA at the venue!).

I arrived in plenty of time to catch the support act, a severe looking blonde woman by the name of Erica Nockalls.

She seemed a very pleasant person as she interacted with the audience between songs, but I'd have to say I found her 'experimental' music not to my taste and I wandered off to buy the aforementioned expensive pint a couple of songs in.

I could still see and hear her set, along with the guitarist/vocalist she performed with (who seemed to spend most of the time torturing his instrument), but I won't be making a trip to see her again, perhaps you'd enjoy it more.

After the usual on-stage sheenanigans, the band we'd come to see finally appeared about 9:10 (a few of the audience were getting impatient by then, but it's rock and roll, isn't it?).

While I was keen to see Echo and the Bunnymen, I certainly wouldn't call myself a diehard fan, only having their greatest hits album in my collection.

As the tour was dubbed the 'Songs to Learn and Sing' tour, though, I expected to recognise a lot of them, but having seen the setlist from Bristol, I didn't recognise all of the titles.

They started with one I didn't "Going Up", but the next one "All That Jazz" was an old favourite.

Oddly, I thought, they performed in two sets, with a 20 minute or so break in the middle, which I've rarely experienced and did leave most people just standing around, in fear of leaving a good spot, for a while.

"Rescue", "Never Stop" and "Bring on the Dancing Horses" featured in the first set along with a new song "Brussels is Haunted" (it was OK) and some others I didn't know, but others around me were singing along to, so were clearly known to them.

Between songs "Mac" chatted with the crowd. Sometimes he was a bit mumbled (he's a Liverpuddlian and joked about 'enunciating more clearly' at one point), but seemed in a fairly good humour.

The lead guitarist was a similar age and did a lot of the musical heavy lifting and a quick Goggle confirms he is an original band member, Will Sargent. The others on stage were all far too young to have been, but the overall sound on the songs I recognised was as true to the records as you'd expect a live performance to be, while retaining the energy that you want, so they all did a good job.

I'd heard criticism of Ian McCulloch's voice, but I don't think you'd ever call him a 'singer' and the distinctive sound of his voice was still there and still clear, so I have no complaints on that score either.

The lighting was a bit strange, plenty from behind the band, but very rarely were they actually lit from the front and only for a split second here and there. I've only ever really seen this at the tiny Boiler Room, where the spots tend to blind and roast the acts!

After the mid-set hiatus, they came back with another song I didn't know, but then debuted "Over The Wall" on this tour. "Seven Seas", one of their best known tracks followed, and most people seemed to know the words to "Nothing Lasts Forever", although it was a new one for me.

"Unstoppable Force" wasn't a song I knew either, but they rounded out with "Bedbugs and Ballyhoo", "The Killing Moon" and "The Cutter", the latter two their iconic songs.

After a fair wait, they did come back for an encore, an extended version of another old favourite, "Lips Like Sugar".

Overall, the sound quality was pretty good, the vocals were nicely balanced to the instruments, meaning you could hear both the tune and the words, something not everyone gets right and I've had reason to complain about at this venue before.

Perhaps, if I'd been a bigger fan, I'd have known more of the songs, but the ones I did recognise sounded pretty good.

I am glad I went and I enjoyed the gig, but, unlike many others there, I think once will probably be enough for me.

Set 1:
Going Up
All That Jazz
Brussels Is Haunted
All My Colours (Zimbo)
Never StopPlay Video
Bring On the Dancing Horses

Set 2:
Show of Strength
Over the Wall (Tour debut)
Seven Seas
Nothing Lasts Forever / Walk on the Wild Side
Unstoppable Force
Bedbugs and Ballyhoo
The Killing Moon
The Cutter
Lips Like Sugar

Monday 4 March 2024

Editors - Guildhall, Southampton - 3rd March 2024

I'd been here before to see Editors and I wondered if, maybe, Bono was right and there's nothing like the first time.

I'd really enjoyed that last gig, being very impressed with Editor's live performance and it had been watching the TV coverage of their 2023 set at Glastonbury that had made me decide that I'd go and see them again if the opportunity arose.

A few months later, it did, at the same venue I'd enjoyed them at before - The acoustics at the Guildhall are very good, I think (although my last visit, to see the Amazons, was a disappointment) - so I booked a ticket.

Coming just a few days after Nouvelle Vague (and a couple before another gig) in the cold weather, I was beginning to feel a bit of gig-fatigue already, but my excitment grew as the day came closer.

I found some cheap on street parking nearby and arrived at the Guildhall about 7:30.

At around 8, the lights went down and the support act came on.

They were Wings Of Desire, who I knew nothing about, but their style suited the audience well (a 5 piece indy guitar band, with a woman on keyboards).

They'd obviously done a decent sound check beforehand, too, as the instruments and vocals were pretty clear, especially for a support act (and in stark contrast to the shambles The Amazons had been).

They were pretty enjoyable, I thought, and I can see them having some success (although, what do I know?).

The lights came up after their set and there was the usual 30 minutes of kit shuffling until the stage was ready for Editors.

At 9PM sharp, the lights went down and, without any histrionics, on came the band.

The tour was a belated one to cover the release of their most recent (but 2022) album, EBM, so it wasn't surprising that some of the tracks were from that album, but they opened with the slightly obscure "Two Hearted Spider" from The Weight Of Your Love album, the one I'm least familiar with.

They were soon into more popular and familiar territory, though, with "Sugar", before delivering "Karma Climb" from EBM.

P>From then on it was pretty much a mix of EBM tracks and older favourites, the exception being an enjoyable cover of "Killer" by Adamski.

I was slightly surprised to hear Munich, still their best known track, delivered in the main set (It had been the finale last time) and they round out the main set with "Papillon", "An End Has A Start", "The Racing Rats" and "Nothing", from The Weight Of Your Love.

The lights, of course, didn't go up after they left the stage and we went through the charade of clapping, stamping and cheering before they returned for three more tracks.

The first was "At All Cost", delivered with just Tom (on vocals) and the guitarists, pretty atmospheric.

That was followed by "The Phone Book", another track from "The Weight Of Your Love" - A lot of that album's lesser known tracks getting an airing.

The finale, tonight, though was epic - Tom delivered the first part of "Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors" solo on a piano and then said "Goodnight".

That would have worked just fine, but a split second later the stage was lit by a flash of bright white light and the full band joined in for the more familiar version.

Everyone cheered as the lights went up and the band clapped and bowed to the audience.

Their performance, once again, had left me impressed and enthusiastic. The mix of tracks was imaginative and varied, sure a few of my favourites were missing this time, but lots were there and it was good to hear tracks I was less familiar with performed live.

The sound balance had been good, too, something I always appreciate and that they had got spot on last time. Bands of their quality and experience should be able to get this right, but I've been disappointed many times at other gigs.

Highlights for me were 'Sugar', 'Heart Attack', 'Blood', 'Munich', 'Papillon', 'An End..', 'Smokers Outside...' and the 'Killer' cover, but I enjoyed everything this time as much as I had the first time I saw them and as much as I hoped I would.

They are a band that seem to fly under the radar a bit, despite their first album approaching 20 years old, but the Guildhall was full with people of all ages and everyone seemed to have a great time and there's no doubt in my mind that they're one of the best live bands around - If I'd been organising Glastonbury last year, I'd have made them the headliner, they were far better than the dreadful nostalgia acts that seem to dominate it nowadays.

It had been another brilliant gig by Editors and I will come and see them again.

Two Hearted Spider
Karma Climb
A Ton of Love
Heart Attack
Hallelujah (So Low)
Strawberry Lemonade
Killer(Adamski cover)
No Harm
Strange Intimacy
An End Has a Start
The Racing Rats
Nothing (full band version)
At All Cost
The Phone Book
Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors(Tom solo (on guitar) first verse and chorus)

Saturday 2 March 2024

Nouvelle Vague - 1865, Southampton - 29th February 2024

Cover bands, they're OK for a bit of fun, but they don't add anything, do they? Well Nouvelle Vague have always challenged that notion.

I've always found their very different, Bossa Nova, style covers very enjoyable, taking familiar (mostly '80s) songs and transforming them into something totally different.

So, when, in May 2023, I saw they were coming to Southampton, I booked a ticket, so this was a gig that I waited longer than most for.

It was a miserable February evening and, to be honest, I wasn't looking forward to the drive to Southampton.

However, it was delay free and I found somewhere fairly close to park for a reasonable amount (parking being free between 8PM and 8AM) and made my way to 1865, which I'd never visited before.

Inside I found one fairly large hall with a balcony area to the right, overlooking the main floor and stage. A small bar was alongside the floor to the right (as you look at the stage), while a much larger bar was between the floor and balcony levels at the rear.

I bought myself a nice pint of beer for a very reasonable £4.50 (The Boiler Room's pricing put to shame here) and waited for the support act, De Laurentis, to appear.

I had no idea who or what that would be, but it turned out to be a French woman with an electronic box of tricks. Throughout her set, she pressed the squares on what looked like an electronic chess board.

I can only presume she was manipulating some kind of sampler, but it was very French and enigmatic, she described her instrument as an 'AI' at one point.

The material was electronic dance music, I guess, not horrible, but not truly remarkable, with definite hints of Jean Michel Jarre at times. She got a positive response and the crowd definitely warmed to her as she progressed. Overall, a decent support act.

After that, we had a half hour wait, while the roadies did final setups and sound checks and then, about 9PM, four men appeared and took up their places behind a keyboard, a drumset, something like a double bass and on a chair with an acoustic guitar.

The lighting stayed low, though, just a series of downward pointing spots and then a blonde woman in a black dress appeared as the first notes of 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' were played.

Now, I'm a big fan of New Order and Joy Division and I think that most covers of, possibly the latter's most iconic song, are pretty awful, but Nouvelle Vague's is so different and yet retains the essential emotion (unlike, for example, Paul Young's dire rendition) of the original that it works for me. Melancholic, rather than angst ridden, like the original.

The lights illuminated the blonde's face as the next song started and she was joined on stage by another woman.

The blonde was Marine Quemere and the other woman, Shanice Alonya Sloan, apparently.

Together they sang a sultry version of 'People are People'.

Marine's voice is quite sweet, with an almost characature French accent ('Zese are the Zings we can do Wizout' on Shout, for example), but I'm a sucker for a French accent anyway, so that's 100% fine with me. Her delivery (most of the time) is very 'torch singer'.

Shanice, meanwhile, has a deeper voice and doesn't sound French (although she seems to be), having no problems with 'th' sounds in English. Her delivery, too, is far more theatrical than Marine's and together they provide a great visual and aural combination, either singing together or taking turns on the lead.

Most people (me included) probably think of Nouvelle Vague as slowing down songs, but their live rendition of 'Only You' provided it with a energy that neither the original or the Flying Picket's acapella version have.

'Making Plans For Nigel', though, was the more typical style of cover for the band.

It was only after listening to their new album the day after the gig, that I realised that many of the songs they performed were from it. They've been fairly prolific and I just assumed I'd not heard them all or even that I had, in some cases!

'Girls On Film' started with the bass player centre stage, delivering a 'Fever' like introduction and then a very different version of the Duran Duran hit. 'What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend' is a fairly obscure Specials song, but delivered in a chripy, upbeat manner here, very unlike the original.

'The Forest' saw the stage lit in green and gave Shanice a chance to show off her modern dance skills as well as take lead vocal.

And so it went. 'Teenage Kicks','I Just Can't Get Enough' and 'The Guns of Brixton' were old favourites for me, but 'Too Drunk To Fuck' was a rare excursion into manic energy for Marine, especially, and brilliant fun.

Their reggae-tinged version of 'Shout' (Tears for Fear, not Lulu!) was great too and they finished the main set on a song I only vaguely knew 'I Melt With You', which was fantastic.

Of course, it didn't take long for them to return to the stage for an encore, which started with the stalwart 'Ever Fallen In Love' and then Marine delivered 'This Charming Man' and Shanice ended the gig with another song I didn't know 'In a Manner of Speaking'.

I must admit, I came to the gig wondering if I'd really enjoy it, maybe finding it a bit too mellow and a bit samey, but my doubts were comprehensively dismissed.

Live, the band have a much more energetic and edgy sound than on recordings and the two singers, especially, deliver an entertaining performance.

Early on I recall thinking that the guitarist was doing a lot of the instrumental work, but as the gig progressed, the bass player and the drummer all had virtuoso performances and, on reflection, I don't think any single member of the band could have been dispensed with, everyone played their part.

Throughout, founder member, Marc Collin, remained impassive, almost hidden, at the back behind his keyboard, letting his band take the limelight while, no doubt, adding to the overall pleasure of the sound. I liked that.

So, Nouvelle Vague are absolutely not your typical cover band.

Their versions of the songs, while homaging the 80s classics they love, are absolutely their own.

Another gig, like A Certain Ratio, where I came away a fan! Go see them!

Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division cover)
People are People (Depeche Mode cover)
Only You (Yazoo cover)
Making Plans for Nigel (XTC cover)
This Is Not a Love Song (Public Image Ltd cover)
Girls on Film (Duran Duran cover)
What I Like Most About You is Your Girlfriend (The Specials cover)
A Forest (The Cure cover)
Marian (The Sisters of Mercy cover)
Teenage Kicks (The Undertones cover)
Just Can't Get Enough (Depeche Mode cover)
She’s in Parties (Bauhaus cover)
You Spin Me Round (Dead or Alive cover)
The Guns of Brixton (The Clash cover)
Too Drunk to Fuck (Dead Kennedys cover)
Shout (Tears for Fears cover)
Friday Night, Saturday Morning (The Specials cover)
I Melt With You (Modern English cover)
Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've) (Buzzcocks cover)
This Charming Man (The Smiths cover)
In a Manner of Speaking(Tuxedomoon cover)

Friday 16 February 2024

The Clockworks - Boiler Room, Guildford - 12th February 2024

I've seen a lot of performers over the last few years, some are pure nostalgia, harking back to their heyday, some were at their height, some will never have a heyday, some almost had one, but somehow never really hit the big time, but few really made me think they may be something big quite soon.

The Clockworks were on at the Boiler Room in February and a quick YouTube browse sounded pretty good, so I bought a ticket.

The band are from Dublin and had been putting out videos for a while, but their first album had only just been released.

Their support were pretty decent, for a change, too, a Milton Keynes band called 'Cusp'.

The Clockworks came on at about 9AM and their hard driving guitar sound was absent initially as the track 'Deaths' starts with a quiet keyboard section, but the pace quickly picked up.

Being quite a new band, they really only had their album to play, but that was no bad thing as there are some very catchy tracks on there.

If I was pressed, I'd say they sound a little like the Arctic Monkeys, but more tuneful and it really is only a little. I've also seen comparisons to another Irish band, Fontaines DC.

They quickly moved through 'Bills' and 'Mayday', another couple of (as it says on Rolling Stone magazine) 'post-punk' tracks, with driving guitars and then a couple of ones I didn't recognise (I'd only played the album once or twice before).

Generally, they sounded like they did on the album, lively, energetic, pacey and a little bit different.

Highlights, for me, were 'Bills', 'Mayday', 'Feels So Real', 'Lost in the moment', 'Advertise' and the finale, 'Fingers'.

I liked what I heard and it felt like maybe I was seeing a band on the way to their heyday for once.

On reflection, though, the audience was all fairly middle aged (The band are decidedly not) and that might mean that there's not a young audience for them.

That would be a shame, as their songs were good and their energy undeniable and I think they have the potential to play far bigger venues - I hope they do get the chance and I can say I saw them at the Boiler Room before they were big!

Hall Of Fame
Car Song
Feels So Real
All We Are
Life In A Day
Lost In The Moment